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First-rate ancient art back on display at the Met

The Metropolitan Museum is so huge that one could wander around in it for days and not see everything. Its size also creates problems for the art critic, who occasionally misses the opening of a new wing or the installation of an important collection in refurbished quarters, and who only realizes some time later that he has not alerted his readers to the viewing pleasures awaiting them in these new or recently renovated areas. A perfect example is on the museum's second floor, where a substantial portion of the Met's collection of Ancient Near Eastern Art -- most of which has been off public view for 16 years -- has been reinstalled in handsome new galleries. Everything, including pre-Islamic works from Mesopotamia and ancient Iran, as well as selected objects from Anatolia, Syria, and Arabia, is chronologically displayed. The selections are broad and first rate, and they guarantee an informative viewing experience to anyone willing to devote time to them.

Even better, those stepping into the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Gallery for Assyrian Art -- which is part of the Ancient Near Eastern complex -- are assured that they will come face to face with some of the most magnificent sculpture ever fashioned. The 9th-century Assyrian reliefs from the palace of Assurnasirpal II at Nimrud, Iraq, are almost beyond belief, and they constitute one of the most imposing displays of high art to be found anywhere in this museum. Not only is every piece a powerful stateme nt in and of itself, but the collective style through which each artist projected his individual energy, and toward which he owed his primary creative allegiance, is incredibly rich, elegant, and sophisticated. Alfred Jensen retrospective

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A major exhibition of the works of Alfred Jensen has just opened at the Guggenheim Museum here. The paintings and works on paper illustrate the development of Jensen's mature style and focus on the artist's explorations of systems and theories derived from earlier cultures. The latter include the Mayan calendar, the mathematical systems of the ancient Greek Pythagoreans, and the color theories of Goethe. The result is as handsome an exhibition of ``abstract'' art as has been seen recently.

At the Guggenheim Museum through Nov. 3.

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